This week’s newsletter is influenced by mega-dosing of Vitamin C and all that weird vertigo you get when you’ve got an inner ear imbalance because there’s something going on in your nose, which is draining into your throat, which is making you cough—a lot—which is giving you stomach cramps and you’re lying on the couch moaning like a lonely blue whale and the noise sounds all funny in your head because—again—inner ear imbalance and—oh, look at the time!

Do you know how money works? Do you think members of our current Administration know how money works? They certainly can’t do math very well. [And yes, maybe it is the cold medicine talking, but seriously, how does cutting the budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting reduce government spending in any significant fashion? Especially when someone is taking regular golf trips on the taxpayer’s dime.] Anyway, DK’s latest visual guide is How Money Works, a great collection of words and pictures that will help even the most financially challenged among us come to grips with the value of saving and investing.

Naturally, one of the important lessons in How Money Works is knowing when not to spend it. Chris Peterson takes that adage to heart with Building with Secondhand Stuff. This second edition includes new projects and shows you how to repurpose all sorts of great materials for your own home projects. Or, you know, when the seas rise and the dust storms come and we’re all extras in some grim-dark dystopian wasteland, scrounging for spoons and colanders.   

Oh, let’s not be so dour. Let’s just move on to our next book. It’ll surely lift our spirits. 

[There’s a reason you should never get the off-brand cold medicine. It leaves a weird film on the back of your tongue. Gritty. And you feel like a dog with a mouthful of peanut butter, trying to get it off. Everything tastes gritty. Everything feels gritty. Sounds are washed through a gritty filter with extra grit. And your sense of humor? Yeah, like that.]

So, anyway, Maisie Dobbs is back. In This Grave Hour opens on the eve of Britain entering the war against Germany, and Ms. Dobbs is drawn into a cat and mouse game with a mysterious assailant who is targeting Belgian refugees from the First World War. We’ve reached peak irony ourselves, and can’t list all the ways in which this novel eerily and tragically reflects the morning news feed, though we’re certain Jacqueline Winspear is merely giving us another rousing installment in the continuing adventures of Ms. Dobbs. 

How about something more cheerful? Cookies, perhaps? Extra cookies even, for when, you know . . .

And speaking of napping on the couch after a hard day of baking and snacking (or even, after ten minutes of staggering around, trying not to bump into walls like a seal with balloons tied to its flippers), how about a nice clothbound edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace to a) help you doze off, b) elevate your head so all the blood doesn’t pool in the back of your skull while you are napping, or c) provide some elevation to keep your mug of warm tea within easy reach? [With a coaster, of course; we’re not savages!]

War and Peace is the latest in Penguin’s fabulous line of keeper hardbacks designed by Coraline Bickford-Smith, and given its page count, it has an amazingly concise one-line summary: “Tolstoy’s epic novel of love, destiny, and self-destruction.” What more could you want when you’re trapped on the couch for what seems like two days shy of forever with this nagging fever that is playing hide and seek among your vertebrae? 

Oh, and in an entirely unsurprising cash grab, the latest edition of the Hogwart’s Library is out. Remember six months ago, when you couldn’t find a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to save your life? Well, guess what? You can again! In a splendid new box set edition with . . . wait for it . . . Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It’s just like the boxed set that came out last Christmas, but, you know, actually complete this time. 

Still, the packaging is nice. And they’re all hardback. And I’m sure someone in your extended family doesn’t have them yet, so . . . 

Let’s talk about something new, instead. Randy Mason’s debut novel, Falling Back To One, is a fast-paced, yet deeply layered crime drama set in NYC in the 1970s. We’ve got our burnt-out cop; we’ve got our dangerous runaway; we’ve got our gritty NYC backdrop . . .

Sigh. It’s all so gritty, all the time, isn’t it? 

You know what? Let’s fade out with The Ancient Minstrel, the last collection of stories by Jim Harrison, one of the hoary old mountain men writers. Harrison knew something about grit, but he also knew a little more about pathos and empathy and the secret workings of the human condition. In fact, he pokes fun at his own reputation in “The Ancient Minstrel,” a story about an aging writer in Montana who is having more luck raising pigs than he is in finishing that “big novel” he’s been promising his editor for a long time. 

Life is short,  darlings. Raise pigs. Write that book. Wash the grit off your tongue and kiss someone. Well, after the fever’s gone, of course. And don’t forget to read some words that make you happy. 


GINGER: What are you reading?

BOB: Thoreau. It’s his book about living in the woods. 

GINGER: Yeah? People still do that? 

BOB: He did. Back in 1845. 

GINGER: Well, of course he did. That was before indoor plumbing and refrigeration. We all “lived in the woods.” 

BOB: Did you just air quote that?

GINGER: Yes. Yes, I did. 

BOB: Have you ever been to the woods? 

GINGER: There’s a nice park at the end of the block where I take my dog for a walk. 

BOB: No, I mean, like, far enough away from civilization that you can’t hear the sound of the freeway. That you can’t think ‘oh, crap, I forgot to buy milk; well, I’ll just hop in the car and pop on over to the corner market and get a half-gallon.’ That you can actually see the stars? 

GINGER: . . . Why? 

BOB: Look. Hang on. Let me read you something. ‘The bull-frogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled, but not ruffled.’

GINGER: Did Thoreau write that?

BOB: He did. Right here. Where he talks about solitude. 

GINGER: I suppose you get a lot of that in the woods. 

BOB: You do.

GINGER: And bears. 

BOB: Not as many as you think. 

GINGER: I don’t like bears. 

BOB: Have you met one? 

GINGER: . . . Why? 

BOB: <sigh> 

HORACE: Hey, mister. Pardon me. What are you reading? Oh, Thoreau. Great stuff. Great, great stuff. I’m more partial to his first book, myself, before he went all navel-gazy, but some really groundbreaking American literature there. 

BOB: Uh, thanks. 

HORACE: Is that a kid’s version? Can I see that? Thanks. Who is the audience for this? Four-year olds? This is terrible. It's like they didn't even read the book. It's like that hideous Easton Press edition. What a mockery! Oh, but there was that Limited Editions Club edition. With the photos. Oh, who did those? HEY JASPER! THIS GUY’S READING A BOOK!

BOB: Uh, look. I’m just trying to have a drink. 

JASPER: What’s this? Really? Who reads in a bar? What's he reading? 

GINGER: Hey, you two. Not now. 

HORACE: He’s reading Walden. And look at this new design!

JASPER: What the [****] is that? Some sort of stick-figure drawing? 

HORACE: It must be that new contemporary design. [****] looks like it's made for kindergarteners. 

JASPER: What was wrong with the Yale edition? Or the Modern Library Classics edition? This is why publishing is all messed up. No one understands how to sell a book anymore. No one reads a book anymore. It’s all going to he—


HORACE: Oh, yes? Oh, oh. I’m sorry. 

GINGER: You should be. This man was reading before you two went all . . . book-psycho on him.  

JASPER: Excuse us. We’re . . . we get a little excited when, you know . . . 

BOB: Apparently. 

GINGER: Why don’t you two go back to your table in the corner and I’ll bring another round out soon. 

HORACE: Oh, yes. But—






HORACE: Thought—

GINGER: Corner. 

JASPER: Now really, dear. There's no need to talk to us like we're infants.  

GINGER: No? Not only was this gentleman reading, but he was reading to me. So, do you mind? 




HORACE/JASPER: Ohpardonusexcusemewe’llterriblyrightoverthere?inthecorner? 

BOB: Those two are an interesting pair. 

GINGER: They can be a handful when their mother isn’t around. 

BOB: Their mother? Uh, how old is she? Those two look . . . 

GINGER: No, no. She’s not their real mother. And they’re not related, as far as I  know. They’re just . . . anyway, don’t worry about them. You just have to swat them on the nose and they behave. 

BOB: I see. 

GINGER: Yeah . . . so, how about it? 

BOB: How about what? 

GINGER: Are you going to keep reading to me? 


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